Fish On Sports: Your NBA First Round Winners are …

For NBA fans, it’s the time of year they’ve all been waiting for – the first stages of weeks of physical and mental warfare that will see one set of players claim their place in league history as this season’s playoff champions. Sound pretty epic right? I think so too.

For NBA writers, it’s the time of year where we put forth our round-by-round predictions. They’re based on statistical evidence accumulated from past regular season and playoff performances that, mostly likely, will end up becoming meaningless when the first round series tip off this coming Saturday (for a complete schedule of first-round match-ups and where you can watch them, click here). Being that as it may, winners and losers (team-wise) are still fun to talk about, so let’s get started.

Western Conference

(1)   Oklahoma City vs. (8) Houston

If we should thank the Lakers for anything this season, it’s this: their 99-95 victory over the Rockets means that the Bearded One must make a trip back to Oklahoma City and face his old team in what should be an emotionally-charged first-round matchup (well, more emotionally-charged than normal). I’ll give the Rockets this: their acquisition of Harden and solid production from unlikely sources (Chandler Parsons, for me, is one of the league’s most underrated shot makers) has transformed Houston’s culture and made them into a solid and potentially dangerous mid-level Western Conference team. Does that mean they’ll upset the Thunder? In a word – nope. OKC have too many weapons on the offensive end, and if nothing else, this series will show Thunder fans that keeping Serge Ibaka instead of Harden was the right decision. Thunder in five.

(2)   San Antonio vs. (7) L.A. Lakers

Two recent triple-doubles in three games from Pau Gasol, improved play on defence from a D’Antoni-coached team (who would’ve thought that was possible) and pumped-up tweets from Kobe Bryant – Lakers are a lock right? Not so fast kids. Manu Ginobili will most likely be available to play, taking some of the pressure off of Tony Parker’s recently strained shoulders, and Tracy McGrady is an upgrade over the recently-departed Stephen Jackson off the bench (T-Mac was averaging 25 ppg before the move to the Spurs). Besides, without Kobe and Steve Nash, the latter of whom still recovering from various injuries, who closes games for the Lakers offensively? After the Spurs predictably double-team Dwight Howard down low, who can provide reliable shooting from the outside for the purple and gold on the kick-out? Oh, and Parker’s still an absolute beast on the dribble-drive. Gimme the Spurs in five.

(3)   Denver vs. (6) Golden State

If you’re in the mood for no-holds-barred offensive basketball, then this series should be just what the doctor ordered. Denver’s season, has been a collection of high points until very recently, with Danilo Gallinari lost for the rest of the season and Kenneth Faried listed as day-to-day with a sprained ankle from last Sunday’s game. To make matters worse, they’re coming up against a hot Warriors squad whose star player, Steph Curry, just set the NBA single-season record for most three-pointer made in a season with 270 (!). An upset could be in the cards here, but I’m leaning towards two factors in Denver’s favour: the coaching experience of George Karl and his wizardry at keeping this team playing at a high level through all sorts of adversity, and Denver’s amazing prowess on their home floor, which they’d play a seventh game on. Nuggets in seven

(4)   L.A. Clippers vs. (5) Memphis

Both teams in this series have had renaissance years, and it will undoubtedly be down to the wire in each and every game. Memphis looks like a better team after trading arguably their best scorer, Rudy Gay, to Toronto for additional talent off the bench, and Marc Gasol should be a serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. In Lob City, the Clippers are now the undisputed kings of Cali, and are looking to build on a season that saw them develop into more of a complete team and not just one that can connect on alley-oops. The rosters are close talent-wise, but Memphis could have the edge if DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin can’t hold the fort down low defensively. I also think Tony Allen and Mike Conley can take turns locking down Chris Paul, who has become the best point guard in the league, and it would go a long way to help the Grizzlies avenge their seven-game oust at the hands of the Clippers last year. Close call, but I’ll take Memphis in seven.


Eastern Conference

(1)   Miami vs. (8) Milwaukee

Of course, the Heat are the better team, with most early predictions having them as a lock to get back to the Finals. However, therein could lie the problem: the Heat are still going to have to take the Bucks seriously as first-round opponents. In four games against the Bucks this year, the Heat were 3-1, but their lone loss was an embarrassing 19-point drubbing in Milwaukee’s house. Larry Sanders could potentially give Chris Bosh a tough time down the middle, and Brandon Jennings may use this series to prove his max-contract worth to the Bucks management team. I’ll say Miami in four, but this could be a series that surprises people.

(2)   New York vs. (7) Boston

Out of the four games these teams played against each other this season, when the Celtics were at full strength, they didn’t make things easy for the Knicks, winning the first meeting and nearly doing so again the second time around. However, since Rondo’s injury and in the midst of Boston’s fading play down the stretch, the Knicks have blown them out twice and have looked dominant in the process. Indeed, New York looks like a formidable opponent, with ’Melo fresh off his first scoring title JR Smith being an absolute force off the bench. That being said, the Celtics have been here before – they came within one game of knocking off last year’s champions with a less-than-healthy squad, so an upset is a strong possibility as well. If Jeff Green and Jason Terry play like they can (and should) and pick up some of the scoring slack, we could be in for a helluva series. Still, I don’t like the Green Machine’s chances in a seventh game in front of Spike and co. at the Garden, if it gets that far. Knicks in seven.

(3)   Indiana vs. (6) Atlanta

It was a tale of two halves for these two teams and their matchups this season. The Hawks ran roughshod over the Pacers in their first two meetings of 2012-2013, putting up boatloads of points on a normally-stingy Indiana squad. However, after Lou Williams went down with an ACL injury later in the year, things haven’t been the same for Atlanta, losing the last two meetings in discouraging fashion. Pound for pound, the Hawks do have some bigs that can potentially smother the likes of Roy Hibbert and David West down low, but the loss of Williams will hurt them on the defensive end. Watch for Paul George, who has lit up Atlanta all season, to have a big series. Pacers in six.

(4)   Brooklyn vs. (5) Chicago

If I were pressed to pick a likely upset in the first round this year, it’s Brooklyn going down to Chicago. The four regular season meetings between these two were all low-scoring affairs, which speak more to Chicago’s grinding style of play, and it’s not like things are going to loosen up come playoff time. If the pace is slow and tactical, as one might expect, the Nets could have a very difficult time getting Deron Williams and Brook Lopez going in the half court. The one wildcard that works in Brooklyn’s favour, however, is Joe Johnson – he’s had his ups and downs this year, but he has the skill set to hit the tough shot in close games. Whether or not the defensive wingmen in Chicago, such as Jimmy Butler, will give him any breathing room to do so is another story. It what is likely to be a physically tough series, I’ll take Chicago in six.

Feel free to leave comments below and as always you can follow me on twitter @afishcalledMatt and the site @lastwordonsport

Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports?  If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.

photo credit: MattBritt00 via photopin cc